How Long to Cook a Turkey
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Having Thanksgiving dinner right on time is easy when you know how long to cook a turkey.
Thanksgiving can be a multi-day cooking marathon. All the planning often centers around the main event—that giant, glistening turkey. We’ll tell you what size turkey to buy, where to buy it from and how long it needs to roast so you can plan your perfect holiday.
Learn how to cook a turkey with help from our Test Kitchen.
How Long Does It Take to Cook a Turkey?
Use this chart to figure out how long to cook a turkey (unstuffed) in a 325°F oven, according to its size:
|4-6 lb. breast||1 hr 30 mins–2 hrs 15 mins||165°F|
|6-8 lb. breast||2 hrs 15 mins–3 hrs 15 mins||165°F|
|8-12 lbs.||2 hrs 45 mins–3 hrs||170-175°F|
|12-14 lbs.||3 hrs–3 hrs 45 mins||170-175°F|
|14-18 lbs.||3 hrs 45 mins–4 hrs 15 mins||170-175°F|
|18-20 lbs.||4 hrs 15 mins–4 hrs 30 mins||170-175°F|
|20-24 lbs.||4 hrs 30 mins–5 hrs||170-175°F|
How to Check the Temperature of a Turkey
To find out if your turkey is fully cooked, insert a meat thermometer into the meatiest, thickest part of the bird (typically the thighs). You’re aiming for between 170º and 175º for a whole bird and 165º for a turkey breast.
When taking the temperature, make sure that the thermometer doesn’t touch any bone, as this can give a false high reading and leave you with undercooked (read: unsafe) meat. And, if the meat isn’t to temperature, make sure you wash the probe of the thermometer in hot, soapy water before testing the turkey again.
In the market for a meat thermometer? Our Test Kitchen recommends the top-of-the-line Thermapen Mk4 thermometer for its accuracy and easy-to-read display. We also like the colorful ThermoPop. Whatever you do, don’t rely on your turkey’s pop-up timer. Many times they pop too late—if they even pop at all—leading to a dry, overcooked bird.
What Size Turkey to Buy
People hosting their first Thanksgiving often wonder how much turkey per person? You’ll need one pound of turkey per guest. When you can’t find the magical 12 pound turkey for 12 guests, just round up! It’s better to have too much food than to run short on the signature dish of Thanksgiving.
If you’re serving a hungry bunch or you really want to eat leftover turkey for the rest of the week, you can round up to one and a quarter pounds of turkey per person. Then you can make our favorite leftover turkey recipes.
What Temperature to Cook a Turkey
Our Test Kitchen recommends roasting a turkey at a steady 325º for the entire cook time. This temperature is low enough that you don’t need to worry about moisture evaporating quickly and drying out the turkey, but it’s also warm enough to cook the bird all the way through at a quick pace. Before the big day, be sure to check if your oven is working properly.
How Long to Cook a Turkey per Pound
The general rule is 15 to 20 minutes per pound of turkey when cooking an unstuffed turkey. Since roasting a stuffed turkey is no longer considered food-safe (not to mention doing so dries out the turkey meat) it’s best to stick to this method and bake one of these crowd-pleasing stuffing recipes in a separate dish.
Tips for Cooking a Turkey
Great—you know your roasting time. But before you nail down your Thanksgiving game plan, don’t forget to factor in these other time-consuming steps.
- Defrost. Thawing a turkey can take anywhere from three to five days. So if you’ve bought a frozen turkey, be sure it is placed in the refrigerator with plenty of time to thaw.
- Preheat the Oven. Set aside 15 to 20 minutes to allow your oven to thoroughly preheat. Since many home ovens heat unevenly, it’s a good idea to let your oven come up to temperature, then wait 5 to 10 more minutes before placing the turkey inside. This allows the heat to evenly disperse in the oven before you open the door. It is also a good idea to rotate your turkey at least every hour to help everything cook evenly.
- Rest. Finally, allow the turkey to rest for at least 30 minutes before you carve it. Resting lets the meat cool slightly and reabsorb juices that were bubbling to the surface in the hot oven. This reabsorption is what gives you plump, tender meat. If you carve the turkey right away, you lose all that tenderness in a puddle on your cutting board or plate!
Want to make the best gravy? Learn how to make gravy from pan drippings.
How do I get crispy, brown skin on my turkey?
The trick to crisp, golden brown skin starts before the turkey even goes in the oven. Plus, you already have this secret ingredient in your pantry! The day before Thanksgiving, remove the bird from its packaging and take out the giblets. Then, massage kosher salt all over the turkey. Return the bird to the fridge until it’s ready to roast on the big day. This technique not only seasons the meat, it also helps to draw out excess moisture from the skin that, once baked, will be nice and crispy.
Should I baste my turkey?
No—and it all has to do with temperature. Basting requires you to open the oven door, which lets heat out and cools the surface of your bird. Every time you baste, you’re increasing the overall cooking time of your turkey. And more time in the oven leads to dry, tough meat.